Smoky: The 7-Inch Yorkie Whose Heroics Saved 250 Men and Kept 40 US Aircraft Operational in the Pacific

Photo Credit: MidJourney
Photo Credit: MidJourney

Dogs have been a part of warfare since the beginning of history. What most individuals usually envisage is a German Shepherd or some other trusty and large canine companion – probably not a four-pound female Yorkshire Terrier! Smoky indeed proved that size is not everything and that even the smallest of creatures can be brave with her service in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Smoky ‘joins’ the US Army

Three American servicemen standing in dense jungle
Three American servicemen serving on New Guinea during World War II. (Photo Credit: European / FPG / Getty Images)

Smoky was found by American soldier Ed Downey in an abandoned foxhole on New Guinea in February 1944. Given the context of the fighting in the Pacific Theater, she was initially thought to have belonged to the Japanese, but this was proven false, as she didn’t understand any commands spoken to her in Japanese. She also couldn’t understand English, for that matter.

Smoky was subsequently purchased by Cpl. William “Bill” Wynne for $2 AUD, as Downey needed money to rejoin a poker game. Wynne, who’d worked with dogs before World War II, became very attached to the Yorkie, allowing her to sleep in his tent on a blanket made from a table cover and sharing his food with her. In this case, it was Spam.

Becoming more and more popular among the troops, Smoky learned new tricks to perform alongside the Special Services, over 200 hand signals and commands, and was even parachuted from a tree. In 1944, she was named the “Champion Mascot in the Southwest Pacific Area” by a wartime magazine because of her willingness to learn tricks for the enjoyment of wounded soldiers.

It’s for this reason that many refer to Smoky as the first-ever therapy dog. She visited military hospitals, beginning with the 233rd Station Hospital on New Guinea during the Biak Island invasion, and continued her work for 12 years, during and after WWII.

26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, Fifth Air Force

Four Consolidated PBY Catalinas in flight
Consolidated PBY Catalinas with the US Air Force. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Smoky soon became an irreplaceable part of the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, Fifth Air Force, participating in 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions in the South Pacific. During these flights, she usually ran around the Consolidated PBY Catalina’s fuselage, dangling below the waist gunner’s feet.

For her actions in combat, Smokey received eight battle stars. She survived more than 150 enemy air raids on New Guinea and even a typhoon that ravaged the coast of Okinawa. Bill Wynne even credited her with saving his life while they were aboard a transport ship. She warned him about incoming enemy shells, and while the corporal survived by ducking just in time, the others around him weren’t so lucky.

From that moment on, Wynne referred to his canine companion as the “‘angel’ from a foxhole.”

Smoky saved the lives of 250 American servicemen

AI rendering of Smoky running through a pipe with a black cable tied around her collar
Rendering of Smoky running a wire through a pipe during World War II. (Photo Credit: MidJourney)

Smoky’s most significant accomplishment came in January 1945, when the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron was deployed to Lingayen Gulf. While there, she ran a telegraph wire for the US Army Signal Corps through a 70-foot-long pipe that was just eight inches in diameter, while under heavy bombardment. She was just small enough to fit in it.

Bill Wynne himself described Smoky’s mission in an interview with NBC following the Second World War:

“I tied a string (tied to the wire) to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert… (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. ‘Come, Smoky,’ I said sharply, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say ‘what’s holding us up there?’ The string loosened from the snag and she came on again.

“By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound… at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes.”

Smoky’s act of courage resulted in 250 ground crewmen no longer having to risk their lives, for the work she’d done in a matter of minutes would have taken three days of digging up a taxiway under daily enemy assaults. Fixing the wire issues kept 40 American fighters and reconnaissance aircraft operational at a particularly crucial moment.

What did Smoky get up to after World War II?

Monument featuring a statue of Smoky sitting in a military helmet
Monument dedicated to Smoky in Lakewood, Ohio. (Photo Credit: Aphillcsa / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Following the conclusion of the Second World War, Smoky became a pioneer in dog therapy at veteran hospitals and had a career in Hollywood and television. She reportedly appeared on 42 shows, never once repeating a trick.

In February 1957, the battle-hardened Yorkie passed away. She was buried in a .30-caliber ammunition box. Nearly 50 years later, in November 2005, a monument was erected in her honor in Ohio’s Rockey River Reservation, depicting her sitting in a helmet. It was dedicated to “Smoky, the Yorkie Doodle Dandy, and the Dogs of All Wars.”

Over a decade after that, in March 2022, Smoky earned a new honor, becoming the first war dog to receive the Animals in War & Peace Distinguished Service Medal for her “exceptionally meritorious service to our nation in a duty of great responsibility.”

More from us: 5,000 War Dogs Served in Vietnam and Almost All of Them Were Left Behind

Speaking at the ceremony, Robin Hutton, president of both Animals in War & Peace and Angels Without Wings, said:

“We don’t think of the animal sacrifice in war, but what they have done is truly stunning. The soldiers they serve with become their ‘pack,’ so they do these fierce feats because they want to please and out of love and devotion they have for their handler. They prove themselves time and time again.”

Nikola Budanovic

Nikola Budanovic is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE